The symphony of our times

Updated at 12:50am on September 10, 2018

Back to the past
THE letters were products of events of early 1970. In the first quarter of that year, an international conference was held in Islamabad on ‘International politics and world peace.’ Several well-known academicians were involved in organising the conference with the help of the government of Pakistan. One of the leading organisers was our former teacher in Dhaka University and the communications minister in 1969–1971 Professor GW Choudhury. He and his colleagues in the academic circles mobilised the services of some young officers as volunteers, including me, to assist the conference. It was in course of the three-day conference that I had the opportunity to meet and befriend persons who proved instrumental in shaping my life and career from 1972 onwards.
The first one was Dr Peter Lyon of the University of London, an expert on Commonwealth and South Asian studies. He was also secretary of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies of the London University. We came to like each other from the very first meeting. I gave him some of my publications on socio-political subjects. He seemed to be pleased with these and during lunch one day told me that he would be happy to have me as a PhD student. I felt delighted though not knowing how and when the possibility would come true.
The letter from Peter Lyon in August contained the pleasant message that I had been accepted for admission into the University of London as a student of MPhil leading to PhD in international politics. The second letter added another strong dimension to the possibility. It came from Robert Edwards, the representative of the Ford Foundation in Pakistan. During the early 1970s, he headed this American funding agency which, among other things, provided study grants and scholarships for post graduate studies including PhD.
While attending the international conference, he had heard Dr Peter Lyon speaking to me. At that point of time, he said that he would try to get the Ford Foundation funding for me if Peter had me admitted as a PhD candidate in the University of London. His letter enclosed a letter of grants from the Ford Foundation in New York offering me a family grant. The two conditions it attached were that, first, I get a letter of admission from the University of London and, second, I obtain a recommendation from Dhaka University that it would use my services as a teacher after I got my PhD. This would be necessary, the letter added, because of the fact that the grant would be made for candidates from Bangladesh.
The unwritten conditions that both the letters implied was that I found out a way to reach London in time for availing the academic year beginning autumn 1972. I felt worried as this condition would be hard to fulfil in view of the reality of my situation as a stranded Bangladeshi in Pakistan.

A way out, role of friends
FRIENDS irrespective of their backgrounds and positions have always been of wonderful help to me during most difficult periods of my life. Genuine and sincere friends came to my rescue in exiting from Pakistan in the autumn of 1972. The first among these friends was a remarkable man of many qualities. He was generous, kind and immensely helpful. Dildar H Rizvi was a promising bank manager when I first met him in Dhaka. He was manager of the East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation, the Dhaka branch of United Bank Limited in 1966–68, later during the 1970s onwards, he became a high official of Bank of Credit and Commerce International and shared its dramatic rise and unfortunate fall. Dr Gowher Rizvi, at present (2018) the international adviser to the prime minister of Bangladesh, is a close cousin of Dildar. Dildar became an intimate friend from the very first meeting. It did not matter while he was a well-placed officer of the most aggressive private commercial bank of the then Pakistan and I was a junior teacher of political science in Dhaka University.
In fact, Dildar overcame a number of barriers to advance me a loan of Rs 5,000 with which I bought a second hand Volkswagen Beetle. I had to leave my university job because of an adverse police report and joined the civil service of Pakistan after obtaining a position in the merit quota. The adverse intelligence report against me was overridden by the higher political authority in the then East Pakistan. They saw that my inability to get the job would mean a loss to the East as a number of merit position holders below the third would be the then West Pakistanis.
In October 1967, I got into the elite service corps the civil service of Pakistan and went to Lahore for training in the Civil Service Academy. In the academy, we found that our monthly salary of Rs 500 was not adequate enough. The mess bill alone cost more than a half of the monthly pay packet no wonder that we of the eastern wing lacking the rich feudal background of the west Pakistani civil servants were relatively indigent. In 1968, Dildar, smart suave and cheerful, visited us in the Civil Service Academy. He virtually seemed like an angel who came to rescue us from penury. He organised loans of various dimensions to me and few of my friends and colleagues from the eastern wing.

Dildar the good angel
WHAT Dildar did for me at the inception of autumn 1972 was far more significant than all the help he had extended to me in earlier times. In fact, I did not even know that he was in Rawalpindi in 1972, I did know that by 1969–70, he had joined the fast developing bank, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which had been organised by a very capable group of Pakistani bankers of United Bank Limited. Among the leaders were president of the bank Aga Hasan Abdi and vice-president Sawleh Naqvi. Dildar was their favourite from the UBL days. He was often referred to as the blue-eyed boy of Aga Hasan Abdi. In Pakistan of early 1970s, Dildar was immensely well-connected in spite of his relative youth.
To be continued.

Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh and editor of the quarterly Asian Affairs, is a former teacher of political science at Dhaka University (1964-1967), former member of the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan (1967-1980) and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister of Bangladesh (1990).